Sharing the Teaching Love…

I am a relatively new convert to Twitter. I love it. Not from a social climber, celebrity follower, cool person maker way, from a purely professional, educational networking kind of way. I am lucky to have been thrown in with some excellent people to follow.

I want to tell you why I think sharing the love on Twitter is awesome, and what it does for me.

  1. Networking: I have made connections with some fabulous education people such as Russell Tarr (creator of @russelltarr and Ross Morrison McGill AKA Teacher Toolkit (creator of @teachertoolkit. I have made contact with these two wonderful teachers both on and off Twitter. Russ invited me to submit a proposal for an international teaching conference in Toulouse in November, where I will be speaking about effective learner behaviours as inspired by TEEP. Ross has been a huge inspiration and actively helped me organise my own TeachMeet at my school.
  2. Exposure to ideas, resources and movements: I have come to discover WomenEd which is an amazing collection of women fighting the lack of females in leadership. As an inspiring Head/T&L coordinator I find their work crucial to my own career. I regularly share resources and blog posts, as do many others. Just today I found a new TEEP inspired strategy shared by @87history.
  3. Chatting: the professionals on twitter are all there for the same reasons as me, to share practice, resources and wisdom. To connect. We do this, as a collective, for our practice and our children. You can join in #chats on twitter, my particular favourites are #engchat and #sltchat. Both have designated topics and are hosted by one or more twitter users.

Now I think they are 3 flipping good reasons to sign up. Follow me @keeponteeping.

CPD: Teacher Education Enhancement Program

In my relatively short time as a teacher, I have been lucky enough to attend a myriad of CPD. Shortly after joining my current school, we were told we would be having 4 of our PD days within 2 months of each other. “What!” we cried…

However, following the annual first day back PD day with notices, department meetings, room assignment, timetables etc, came 3 days of TEEP training, run by SSAT. This CPD changed my life, my practice and my outlook on my profession. I am not exaggerating.

Two consecutive days of training which “modelled the model”stuffed to the brim with activities, discussions, group work and ideas. I came away from “Level 1: part 1” excited, inspired and motivated. The best part was there was no divide in our training room, the Headteacher sat with NQTs, and staff who had taught from 2-22 years. It brought us together as a staff.

TEEP uses an usual way to enhance Teacher’s practice. Firstly the learning cycle is key, not only for planning but also for understanding how people learn – I say people because this is not just a learning journey for the students, we as staff went on that journey too. So there learning cycle, firstly it never occurred to me before, but learning is circular! What’s more, we can swing back and forth between stages, skip one, do the cycle 3 times in a lesson or once in a week. This blew my mind and changed the way I thought as lessons, schemes and topics.

I won’t go in to oodles of detail as I do not want to take anything away from you, if you have the chance to complete this training.

Day 1: Introduction to the TEEP Model and 5 elements of learning.

Day 2: Looking specifically at the learning cycle segments and how these can apply in a myriad of ways.

Day 3: (usually a few weeks/couple of months later, having had the opportunity to implement some ideas already) Effective Learner Behaviours and Effective Teacher Behaviours.

I felt this set up was perfectly timed for me. I also feel that I was exposed to this thinking at the perfect point in my career, it has spurred me to read books from all sort of pedagogical perspectives (see my reviews here) and explore, many different ideas.

Initially following the training I created a number if “slides” – a variety of TEEP inspired activities which could be dropped in to powerpoints as and when needed. I also started using the TEEP cycle arrows to help focus my planning on the cycle and also to think carefully about whether my teaching was hitting what my learners needed. I found I was making the common mistake of giving learners new info and expecting application immediately, with not time for construction.

This training is fantastic, I throughly recommend it. I am lucky enough to be in the process of compiling my TEEP portfolio, ready for attendance at Level 2 later this year. I aim to complete my L3 also which is becoming a trainer.

You can visit TEEP’s website here, and their Twitter handle is @TEEPSSAT


Review: Engaging Learners

Engaging Learners – Andy Griffith and Mark Burns @OTeaching

“In an era when with teachers and the students it’s time to redress the balance so that students take over the responsibility for their learning. A class can be skilled and motivated to learn without a teacher always having to lead. Engaging learners in this way unpicks intrinsic motivation, the foundation that underpins productive learning environments and helps to develop independent learning.”

Chunked into 6 humorously written and easy to swallow segments, from asking the key question “Why aren’t these kids engaged?” to “I know how to get outstanding now!” This book takes the reader on a true learning journey about creating better, more engaged learners. The authors, are filled to the brim with case studies and examples (both positive and negative) which illustrate the difference these techniques can make in every classroom. They also apply their fool-proof thinking to the overall problem of engaging students.

I was tempted by this book following a session of CPD on Teaching Outstanding English for the new GCSE by Osiris. I am not exaggerating when I explain it has genuinely and completely changed my outlook on my practice and my practice itself. At first, I dubious about launching into the 200 odd pages, on top of the usual teaching, marking, planning cycle. However I set myself the challenge of just ensuring I read one chapter at a time, highlighter at the ready.

This was successful, until I reached the halfway point, then I threw caution to the wind and finished the book in one session tucked up on the sofa with the dogs. There are so many great ideas, tips and pearls of wisdom that I am struggling to decide what to include to whet your appetite.My copy is now dog-eared on probably every other page indicating something I have tried, want to try or will come back to when I get that magical minute of time to do so.

So I have jotted below one thing I have tried, one thing I will be trying, and one thing I need to explore further. I must stress, this is the tiniest tip of the biggest iceberg.

  1. Learning Grids – HOW had I not heard of these?! As soon as I read about them I was on twitter, the TES, trawling the net for ideas and examples. I now have a variety of English Language based ones for writing for purpose, a set of GCSE ones designed by myself to help revision skills and finally a full set of Creative Writing ones which were based on a Wild West one I found, and the rest have been illustrated, in an infantile manner, by me. I have used them successfully in the classroom to prompt creative writing. I gave each stun 3 ingredients from the grid, and 5 minutes writing time, then every 2 minutes for the following 6 I gave an extra ingredient to include. I use a dice app on my phone to pick the boxes, but have foam dice on the way from Amazon.
  2. Meta-Cognition Dice – I have made these up ready, but am yet to use them. I feel my students need a bit more training before working their way up to answering these questions. I aim to try with Y7 first next term to see how they fare.
  3. Class Mantras – I have realised as I progress through my RQT year, and first year in English, that there are lots of things I will do differently next year. One of these is training my students. I am coming across new ideas and approaches all the time and I am hoping by September I will be able to train class from the start. I have had small successes, for example, some students will now automatically cut across those asking me for help with a solution they can use to help themselves, as my default answer to “Miiiiissss…” is “How can you help yourself?” Also, students are starting to use the resources in front of them a lot more, for example my literacy folders are stuffed full of goodies to help improve their work, but I assumed that because they were on the tables, the students would use them! Boy, was I wrong, now I explicitly point out when it would be useful to look at them, and they are slowly starting to use them on their own, o ask if they can for certain tasks.

As you can imagine, I thoroughly recommend you add this to your collection. Even if you only take a few things, they will revolutionise the way you teach.

Rating: *****

Trying to be a ‘Growth-Mindset’ teacher in a Fixed-Mindset education system

Throughout my fledgling teaching career so far, one question has always been at the back of my mind; what kind of teacher do I want to be? While it is easy to say that my teaching adapts to meet the needs of all my learners, in reality, we all fall into certain routines, patterns and habits of teaching that perhaps don’t fully represent that philosophy 100% of the time.
For me personally, I am very much of the school of Hymer, Gershon and Dweck, in that I would like to consider myself not only to be Growth-Mindset teacher, but also a Growth-Mindset person. I fully embrace the idea that to fail at something is simply the ‘First Attempt In Learning’ and that to not be able to do something, is simply not to be able to do it ‘yet’. I’m under no illusion that it is impossible to be fully Growth-Mindsetted, (for example, I am more than acutely aware that I will never master the delicacy and grace of ballet or understand the intricacies of neurological science). I do believe that if we think about the Growth-Mindset on a smaller scale; in focussing on the daily challenges we face and being reflective on the unsuccessful attempts at facing those challenges, then our pupils will become people who say “I will get this eventually” rather than spouting out the same excuses of “I don’t get it” when facing a challenge.
If we focus on these short term ends, rather than focus on the end goal of mastering something then learning to children wont seem so daunting. I believe this almost fear of learning is what hold most children back. It was Illeris who stated that for children to push their mind beyond simple assimilation in to true transformative learning, they have to go through a painful process. Learning is painful. As a result, as humans, it is only natural that we choose the easier route of giving up too easily or sticking with the things that we already know. This is why I think that it is important to focus teaching to promote risk in classrooms and to promote the idea of learning being a rewarding and exciting process rather than a painful one. I firmly believe that this has to be done on a step by step basis. We have to focus on the next stable foothold rather than focussing on the summit of the mountain.

However, as idealist as this sounds, (perhaps somewhat naive in my inexperience), can we truly achieve this in the current education system that we find ourselves in? Yes, a lot of Ofsted and DfE rhetoric often talks about pupils be self-reflective, be independent learners and have a positive attitude towards their own learning, but does the government truly want this? They say they do evidently, and Ofsted lambasts schools for not promoting it, and yet from the way in which our pupils are measured it would indicate that what they want us as teachers to produce contradicts the way in which they want us to produce it.
At the end of their 5 years in school, we do not measure our pupils on their ability to reflect, or their ability to earn independently; we measure them on what they have learned. Therefore it begs the question, why do we need to promote all these ideals when all that is measured and graded and that is taken into account for the rest of these childrens’ lives is what they score they get in an exam. We are not assessing their ability to learn, we are assessing their ability to jump through hoops. It was Biesta to said that ‘we value what we measure rather than measure what we value’, and I think this rings true. Teachers and schools are under so much pressure from Ofsted, data collections, league tables, performance related pay, that I find it hard to see how schools can focus on anything but their results rather than the learning of their pupils.

Unless a school embraces the idea of the Growth-Mindset, I think teachers can be ostracised, or told ‘it won’t work’, or called mavericks because of the fact that really all teachers should be doing is training pupils to get through exams. I am very lucky to have been employed at a school that fully embraces the Growth-Mindset, (so much so, the mantra has been incorporated into the school’s motto), and that I able to promote the idea of risk and independence in my classroom. I fully believe that if we teach in away that promotes the Growth-Minset, that results will come naturally and that we won’t be any worse of than where we are now, but there will be one marked difference; we will be producing students who can learn with resilience, independence and confidence to take risks.
In the current system there obviously needs to be a balance. we need to try and teach in such a way that we are promoting these ideas of reflection and independent learning while still having that end goal.

I think that until the system changes – until we start to ‘measure what we value’ – and judge our pupils on not only what they learn, but the way in which they approach it; then I believe that teachers will forever be in a circle of contradictions when trying to approach teaching in a Growth-Mindset way. It is the idea of the ‘Semmelweis Effect’, (talked about by Frank Coffield), in that the people in power are often stuck in their ways and any new ideas are considered radical and have no place. From what I can see so far in my career, the current people in power of education only seem to focus on data and results rather than the kinds of people we are farming out of this system, and that I believe is why our country is falling rapidly behind in this rapidly advancing world.
I hope I am wrong, and that my nativity on this topic becomes apparent over the next few years, but I will continue to teach in a Growth-Mindset way, always having in the back of my mind that niggling thought; ‘I need to get results’.

-Mr. H-B.

But Sir, What About Me?

By now, I think everyone in and out of the education world has started to get to grips with the changes to GCSEs. Certainly, as an English teacher I have been grappling with them since the summer of 2015. I’ve been working hard, almost as hard as my poor Y10 students, at understanding the new tasks, AOs, sections of the exams and everything else that goes along with it.

In essence, the bottom line is this: the new GCSEs (particularly English) are hard. REALLY hard. They require skills and contents they must be pre-taught from Y7. I am now teaching my Y7 students basic skills they will come to rely on in Y10 and 11. My Y10s don’t have that luxury, they were trained for a different, easier exam.

Another niggle with the new line up is the sheer level of content. 2 novels need to be studied and essentially rote-learned a modern, and 19th C. Tricky for most us, even harder when you also need to know a Shakespeare play backwards and the ins and outs of 15 anthology poems from 1789 to present day. This is, of course, along side the skills that are required for analysing unseen texts and poems, and creating Non fictions texts of their own plus comparing and contrasting non fiction texts from the 19th and 21st centuries. Phew.

But no sweat, we have two years. The nail in the educational coffin, so to speak, for me, is the very foundation of this new GCSE format. As a leader of a course described it to me, (a course entitled Outstanding Results in English GCSE) “these GCSEs are simply not designed for everyone to pass.” Hmmm…

So not only is the new 9-1 grading system a real headache to get your head round, and the new “pass grade” (used to be a C) is now much closer to a B but this has an impact that society is possibly not ready for. Students are going to fail, what’s more, teachers will know this, from when students start studying the GCSE. And if they don’t get their 5 9-5 grade GCSEs they will probably not be able to attend their choice of college and study A-Levels, ergo University.

This isn’t necessarily an issue in itself, it is good that we have a variety of people who do a variety of jobs, we can’t all be pop stars and DJs. BUT these students need to go somewhere… I imagine it will be vocational options which can be extremely useful for both job and life skills. However I can’t help but wonder, those students who we know, deep down, haven’t got a cat’s chance in hell, would be better off doing another qualification. Something like a functional skills unit, purely based on the key literacy skills needed to get a job and earn. SURELY this would be more beneficial to lower ability students than battling with learning Shakespearean insults or the conspiracy of silence within the plot of The Woman in Black. But no, it doesn’t hit any of the Progress 8 buckets… therefore we a limited as teachers in what we can really do for students. This is a very really wall stopping us doing what is best for the students we have. Is this right? Is this fair? All student have a right to education, we accept this as a basic human right. But shouldn’t this be an education that benefits them? Not frustrates and limits their potential? Or one that teaches skills that will not be useful?

Reading for pleasure is all good and well, but there’s not much point teaching that to students when they may end up working 3 jobs and spare time is a distant memory to them. As teachers we OWE these students better, the DESERVE better. I strive to be better and model this for my students. I go above and quite frankly way beyond my colleagues at times. But I do know at the end of the day, school year and Results Day there will be students left behind asking this question: “What about me?” As of yet, I have no answer I can provide.


Resource #7: Poetry Analysis Model Answer

a) How is the theme of love presented in Carol Ann Duffy’s Valentine? (15)

Carol Ann Duffy wrote the poem Valentine following a request form a radio producer in 1993, asking her to write a poem for Valentines Day. She was already well known for her controversial poetry work therefore this untraditional take on love and Valentines was not a surprise.

The structure of the poem is really interesting, although it is in free verse, that is, there is no rhyming pattern or apparent rhythm pattern; it could be argued that this is a deliberate act from the poet. Some consider the inconsistency of the stanzas and line length as a visual representation on the page of the unpredictability and unevenness of true realistic love. The short lines are just one word “here” and the longest are using a technique called enjambment where a lines runs on to the next without any punctuation: “It will make your reflection/a wobbling photo of grief.” It could also be argued that the unevenness of the stanzas and line length also contribute to the visual aspect of the overall metaphor in the poem – an onion. The structure of the poem could reflect the uneven layers of the onion.

The tone of the poem is unusual for a love poem. Straight away she starts by using the word “Not” this immediately tells the reader that this is a not a normal poem. She goes on to dismiss cliche Valentine presents such as “red rose or satin heart.” This is a short sentence and has impact on the reader. It is explicit in setting the tone for the poem, almost that  the gift she talks about later in poem is neither of these things but that the poem and love is in fact not cliche either. The other strong tone is honesty, Duffy/the speaker is trying to express truthful, pragmatic real love, as opposed to the cliche we are exposed to in the movies and on TV. She repeatedly refers to this truthfulness and honesty “I am trying to be truthful” is a explicit example, whereas other references through the poem are more implicit such as “for as long as we are.” The latter suggests that is a realistic about love not lasting for forever in some circumstances.

As I mentioned previously, Duffy is famous for her controversial takes on ideas and conventions. She wrote a series of poems from the point of view of the wives of famous men, for example “Mrs Midas”.  In the early 90s, I can assume that it was still the norm to marry and settle down for a family, she deliberately contrasts this when she says “if you like” this suggests that they can remain partners outside the institution of marriage, as opposed to potentially feeling pressure from society to marry as that is what was expected from straight couples.

Imagery is rife throughout this poem, the main form being the metaphor for love which is the onion. We are introduced to this continued metaphor on line two, where the speaker presents it to her lover, “I give you an onion.” She then uses a metaphor to describe the metaphor of the onion for love “it is the moon wrapped in brown paper” this not only creates the idea of a gift in the reader’s minds with use of the word “wrapped”. However it also links to the idea of unconventional as it is “brown paper” which gives the reader an idea of a parcel, more than a present. The reference to the moon, could be linked to the Roman Goddess Diana, who as the goddess of love, and also in charge of the moon. The moon has a powerful pull on the earth, dictating monthly cycles and the tides.

Duffy uses many other poetic techniques throughout the poem to help continue the metaphor and created a clear picture in the reader’s mind. She uses a smilies when describing the unwrapping of a present “ like careful undressing of love”, this again has connotation that links to onion as well as love.  She creates very clear imagery with the line “it will make your reflection/a wobbling photo of grief.” As readers we are unsure as to weather the “it”: refers to the onion or love and this ambiguity continues throughout the poem. The use of the word “blind” may be a reference to love-blind and mention of “tears” and “grief” reiterate the negative side of love.

Duffy has a theme of violence running through the poem which becomes more obvious through her language choices at the end of the poem. She uses words such as “fierce”, “lethal” and “knife”. These words can be considered negative, and violent, almost reflecting the negative, pragmatic approach the speaker has to love. It again, becomes unclear as to whether Duffy is referring to the onion or love when she uses these words. They have been cleverly selected so they could apply to either. When Duffy uses the term “lethal” it could be a reference to the smell of the onions “its scent will cling to your fingers” or to marriage, which the speaker has offered in an offhand way likening the wedding ring to the platinum loops of an onion.

Duffy has created a very definite sense of truthful, honest love that hurts, so much that it your “tears will create a wobbling photo of grief” and that it is “lethal”. She is brutal in her honesty and pragmatic in her approach to love “for as long as we are”; she also squashes the notion of “cute cards” and “kissogram” along with other typical valentine cliches. It is, in essence, an anti-valentine poem, one that stands up against the commercialism of love, the love presented to us in fairytales and films. It is a statement about the reality of love.